John Peel and Tommy Vance present TOTP in July, 1984

See also: Friday Rock Show Wiki

Tommy Vance (1940-2005) was a colleague of John Peel at Radio London in the summer of 1967 and at Radio 1 from 1967 to the early 1970s and again from 1978 to 1993, and also at the BBC World Service and BFBS for many years. Although they covered quite different fields of music in the 1980s, and Vance took over Peel's Thursday night slot in 1984 with a much more AOR-orientated show which caused some friction, Peel never felt as distant from Vance as he did from most daytime presenters of the day, because Vance was clearly much more interested in music than celebrity.

Vance - born Richard Hope-Weston - was born in Oxfordshire and left home at 16 to join the Merchant Navy, though he was rapidly discharged. Like many of his generation including Peel, he was captivated by the romance of America and, like Peel, began his broadcasting career on pop radio there. Vance found his way across the Atlantic to become a DJ on American radio as 'Rick West', a shortening of his own name, before taking the name of 'Tommy Vance' from a DJ who hadn't turned up after jingles had been recorded. After enjoying major success at KOL in Seattle and KHJ (aka Boss Radio) in Los Angeles, he returned to Britain after encountering problems with US immigration authorities - claims have been made that he was aiming to avoid being called up to serve in Vietnam.[1]

His experience on American radio made him a natural for offshore radio when he returned to his home country; he worked on Radio Caroline South and Radio Luxembourg before becoming one of the last DJs to join Radio London, in July 1967, to replace Tony Blackburn who had left the station to join the BBC[1]. At this time Peel was reaching his first career peak with the Perfumed Garden. The two broadcasters came off the ship together when the Marine Offences Act came into force - Vance having presented Big L's final 'Fab 40' chart show - and both immediately joined Radio 1, where they became - along with Pete Drummond and, briefly, Mike Ahern - members of the rotating team who presented Top Gear. At the time, the BBC did not think that one broadcaster alone could sustain a three-hour show, so after a few weeks of experiments with different combinations of presenters, Peel and Vance were chosen as regular co-hosts of the show, as was heard on 31 December 1967. [2] This continued until February 1968 when the show was shortened to two hours and Peel became the sole presenter. After this, Vance hosted a variety of other shows on Radio 1 into the early 1970s, such as 'Radio 1 Club', 'Sounds of the Seventies' and occasional "swingjock" duties, and was heard as the Radio 1 presenter in an episode of 'Steptoe and Son', but never reached the front rank at the station or carved out a clear niche at this stage, perhaps because of his lack of interest in celebrity status while simultaneously not being as singular and musically-orientated as Peel.

However, in the late 60s Vance also worked as a continuity announcer for BBC2 television, and began a long association (shared with Peel) with the BBC World Service, initially presenting the show 'Pop Club' and later 'Rock Salad'. He worked for mainland European stations such as Radio Monte Carlo, where, in 1971, he and Dave Cash took over the late-night weekend slot vacated when the Peel-influenced, hippy-oriented station Radio Geronimo ceased broadcasting, and presented their shows in a much more conventional style. He then became one of the original presenters at Capital Radio, the first legal commercial pop station broadcasting on land in the UK, when it launched in October 1973. Vance initially co-presented the weekday morning show and then fronted weekend shows where he was among the few British DJs in the mid-1970s (other than Peel) to give airtime to reggae. In the summer of 1977, Vance co-hosted a well-remembered special show on Capital with the artist then known as Johnny Rotten, in which Lydon effectively made the links clear between punk and the more genuinely progressive and less pompous bands Peel had championed in the earlier part of the decade, when he expressed his liking for Can and Van Der Graaf Generator. Vance also joined BFBS, where he presented a daily show from 1976 to 1986 while Peel was presenting a weekly show. Vance later presented other shows on the station.


John Peel with Tommy Vance on the Radio 1 Calendar for 1981

Vance returned to Radio 1 in November 1978, effectively to fill the gap left by Alan Freeman's sudden departure and to bring about a clearer distinction between the two sides of Radio 1's rock output which was carried on Radio 2's VHF transmitters. Up to this time, while Freeman's still old-wave-based show had crossed over much more into punk and its aftereffects than is sometimes claimed, Peel had been playing - under duress - the likes of Yes and Boston (21 August 1978); now Peel was to be free to play only what he personally liked, and while Vance taking over Peel's Friday night slot with his 'Friday Rock Show' reduced Peel's weekly airtime by 20%, it arguably strengthened the identity of Peel's show, definitively separating the music that was acceptable within the "NME consensus" from that which wasn't, recognising the fact that by this time they had almost entirely separate audiences and profoundly opposing politics. The Friday Rock Show, combined with Vance's Saturday afternoon show 'Rock On', became as important to a quite different audience as Peel's show was to its own audience, all the more so after Vance's show - initially still a broader-based mainstream rock show on the lines of what Freeman had done before - became very heavily dominated by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (which Peel and the NME largely viewed with disdain) in the early 1980s. While Vance lost 'Rock On' to Richard Skinner in 1982, he presented the Top 40 show throughout 1982 and 1983, his more informed, musically-aware approach seeming to fit perfectly with the breakthrough of Peel-nurtured acts to the mainstream which was reaching a peak as Vance took over the show.

Peel and Vance appeared together on occasional multi-presenter editions of Top of the Pops, and later co-presented the show on two occasions (12 July 1984 (TOTP) and 22 November 1984 (TOTP)), showing a good working relationship. However, by the time of their second show together, Peel's relationship with the BBC had hit one of its many low points - to the point where David Jensen (who had just left Radio 1) was, unbelievably, seriously suggesting in the NME that Capital might be a more natural home for him, and Peel had also lost his Thursday night slot (from the first week of October 1984) to Vance's show 'Into the Music', a heavily AOR-dominated programme aiming at a completely different audience from Peel. This would be replaced after exactly a year by Andy Kershaw's show, which obviously fitted much more with Peel, but the reduction in Peel's airtime continued to rankle.

Peel and Vance continued to serve their respective niches throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, with Peel endorsing Vance's show as one of many on Radio 1 concerned with music more than celebrity in an article he wrote for Radio Times on its 25th anniversary in 1992. For Vance's last year at the station, Peel's show followed Vance on Friday nights. Vance left Radio 1 in April 1993 to become part of the launch team at Virgin Radio; towards the end of his time at the station, as mainstream rock shifted its scope following the upsurge of grunge, Vance began playing bands who had previously been associated strictly with Peel, and Peel linked out of Vance's penultimate show on 26 March 1993, which had ended with a Dinosaur Jr track, commenting "how nice to see so many of my bands creeping into your programme - perhaps it'll be the turn of the Fall fairly soon, I look forward to that". Vance had in fact praised that band's "Free Range" when he sat in for Mark Goodier on the Radio One Chart Show of 8 March 1992, and also praised My Bloody Valentine's "To Here Knows When" when he deputised on the same show on 10 February 1991.

Peel and Vance remained colleagues at the BBC World Service for some years. Vance's domestic broadcasts in his later years were patchy, and included some ill-advised TV work, but Vance's death in March 2005 - less than five months after Peel's - was mourned by many, including some of Peel's admirers who, for all the musical differences, recognised a music enthusiast among the egos of 1980s Radio 1.

Tommy Vance Last Media Interview

Below is an extract of the last media interview with Tommy Vance. [2] Recorded via telephone on 28th February 2005, Tommy chats to Andy Johnson of Spain's TBS magazine, where he talks about Peel's recent passing:

What was your reaction to the demise of John Peel?

  • People who don’t die before their time in the music industry tend to go straight to the House of Lords. Unfortunate for him, but when you die you die, don’t you? Unfortunate for his missus who had to go through the rigmarole of getting his body back to the UK. That was a hassle but to be fair, he’s dead and once you’re dead, you’re dead.”

Did you have much contact with John at Radio 1?

  • I knew John Peel when he was on the pirates. The first show I did for Radio 1 was a dual hosting thing with him called Top Gear; Sunday at 3 o’clock in the afternoon”

Is there anyone who’s got the chutzpah to take over from John Peel’s mantle?

  • “… A lot of people have got the chutzpah to take over John Peel’s mantle but I don’t think the radio stations, either the BBC or elsewhere will allow them to do that. There’s a lot more regimentation in radio now than there was in those days. I don’t know who would have the breadth of knowledge that John developed. He would play anything. Eclectic is good – eclectic educates. It increases people’s appreciation of any art form. It gives people the ability to choose and to learn but it doesn’t sit very well with the accountants.”

Shows Played

Tommy Vance & The Checkmates, 1966, Off The Hook

Tommy Vance & The Checkmates, 1966, Off The Hook



  1. In his Selling The Sixties (London 1992, p.129), Robert Chapman says of Vance; "His American experiences left their mark not just on his radio style, which was modelled on the ‘speak fast and modulate low’ style of the influential Big Dan Ingram at WABC New York, but also on his politics. He frequently voiced pacifist sentiments on the air on Radio Caroline,and on one occasion played Joan Regan and the Squadronnaires’ ‘Ricochet’,and Anne Shelton’s World War Two rallying call‘ Send all the boys back home’, before launching into a personal condemnation of the Vietnam war."
  2. In his Selling The Sixties (London 1992, p.246), Robert Chapman writes of Peel and Vance's collaboration on Top Gear: "It was an uneasy alliance, with the two presenters nervously swapping quips and anecdotes and the almost audible sound of non-renewable contracts being rustled in the background."

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